December 2, 2023

Life Is Good wires Sham as Medina Spirit makes it interesting late

Life Is good
Life Is Good and jockey Mike Smith, right, hold off Medina Spirit in the Sham Stakes © BENOIT PHOTO

Early Kentucky Derby (G1) favorite Life Is Good was finding life in his stakes and two-turn debut too easy in Saturday’s $100,000 Sham Stakes (G3), until his Bob Baffert stablemate Medina Spirit gained late and almost erased his deficit. Hall of Famer Mike Smith had to rouse Life Is Good in the final yards, and the 1-5 favorite remained in control by three-quarters of a length at the wire.

Pre-race discussion focused on Life Is Good’s similarity to Baffert’s 2020 Kentucky Derby hero, Authentic, who likewise jumped from a debut sprint win at Del Mar to conquer the Sham. But afterward, the result was more evocative of another Authentic victory – last summer’s Haskell (G1), when he idled with Smith, and almost got caught by Ny Traffic.

If Life Is Good was always doing enough to hold the relentless Medina Spirit, his final furlong in :13.39 will invite critique of his Derby credentials. The glass-half-full take is that he might well have gotten bored in front. The glass-half-empty take will wonder if the Into Mischief colt could be vulnerable going farther.

For the first 7 1/2 furlongs of the Sham, Life Is Good was putting on a clinic in how to rout your rivals. Quickly recovering from the start to outsprint the field to the clubhouse turn, the bay coasted through splits of :23.56, :46.67, 1:10.66, and 1:23.24. Smith was sitting chilly as though riding a workout, and the only question was how far.

Meanwhile, Medina Spirit was running the next-best race in the rearview mirror. The 9-1 shot was second at every call, but drawing off from the rest of them by an increasing margin. Down the stretch, his can-do spirit ensured he would be a respectable runner-up. Then as his momentum continued to build, Medina Spirit was developing into a potential threat.

Life Is Good, who had maintained a four-length advantage at the eighth pole, saw it vanish with every stride. Once aware of Medina Spirit’s presence, Life Is Good re-engaged to complete the mile in 1:36.63, and he persevered on the gallop-out.

Smith chalked it up to the colt’s inexperience in just his second start, and first route:

“It was his first time around two turns. He got away just a little slow, but he got up and of course he’s naturally so quick, he was just up underneath himself. Just as we were heading for home, he was doing things all by himself so easy out there.

“He didn’t know what he was doing going twice around, and he just got the lead and was looking out at the infield on the big screen. He could see himself, and he got to looking, but I was watching as well so I saw the horse coming on the outside.

“I didn’t want to panic, I just showed it (the stick) to him a little bit. What I liked really was after the race, when I stood up and the (other) horse got next to me, he jumped back in the bridle and I mean I had to pull him up.

“He’s just very, very talented. We don’t know yet how talented. We haven’t gotten close yet.”

Baffert was quick to observe that Medina Spirit is no slouch himself.

“Medina is a nice horse – he’s a good horse – and I could tell that Mike was just cruising out there. I always feel that the second race is most important. You’re going up against winners. I think Mike did a great job, just sort of cruising out there and it was just the kind of race we were looking for.  They ran pretty fast…It is so exciting he passed the two-turn test.”

Life Is Good earned 10 points toward the Kentucky Derby, and Medina Spirit received 4 points. There was a 13-length gap back to Parnelli (2 points in third). A further six lengths back came fourth-placer Waspirant (1 point), who had finished in the same spot in the American Pharoah (G1), and therefore has a total of 2 Derby points. Uncle Boogie trailed throughout after being bumped and pinched back between Life Is Good and Parnelli at the start.

Bred by Gary and Mary West in Kentucky, Life Is Good commanded $525,000 as a yearling at Keeneland September. Now 2-for-2, he’s earned $94,200 for owners China Horse Club and WinStar Farm.

Life Is Good is the second registered foal from the Distorted Humor mare Beach Walk. His second dam, multiple Grade 1-placed stakes scorer Bonnie Blue Flag, was herself runner-up in the Test (G1) for Baffert. Bonnie Blue Flag is a half-sister by Mineshaft to multiple Grade 1 vixen Diamondrella, a sprinter-miler on turf.